Family holiday celebrations always included a birthday cake for my paternal grandmother who was born on Dec. 25. She often seemed somewhat surprised that we remembered. I wondered if maybe her birthday as a child was overlooked. I hope not. When I was growing up, my Dad faithfully visited her on Sunday afternoons. I often went with him, and we’d sit in her tidy and cozy living room, and I’d listen to them talk. It was more than just a cursory visit, but I don’t remember her offering us dessert or snacks, and we didn’t stay so long that I was bored.
My Dad kidded her about the Democrats, and while I knew nothing at the time about politics, I knew my grandmother was a staunch Democrat. They also discussed obituaries. My mother and grandmother, both good women, did not necessarily enjoy a close friendly relationship. My mom commented, “They just talk about politics and who died.” Even as a child I sensed division. Perhaps because of that, I learned to dislike bickering. When I was older, I vowed not to repeat such behavior, and it’s a promise that’s been honored. My three children argued often among themselves until four months before the oldest began college. Now they are best of friends, and I am forever grateful.
My grandmother was a non-traditional woman who worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office until she was 83. She was widowed for decades, lived alone in her house, and did an excellent job of maintaining it. She was meticulous and as a child, I’m sure my messy behavior tested her patience. I was taught to be respectful of other people’s property, but she disliked even a small hand on her woodwork or walls. She was not the warm and fussy grandma type, but I loved her and knew in her own way she loved me. Saturday overnights meant bismarks from Melvin’s Bakery for breakfast and her delicious fried chicken for dinner, and we’d play Parcheesi.
I always thought she was very old, even when she wasn’t. Age takes on new meaning as one passes middle age. I remember her saying she was going to live in The Home. She didn’t, staying in her own house until she needed nursing home care the last two months prior to her death at 92 ½.
Promising myself I would act young and keep current as she did, I’m rather disappointed in my results. I was doing fine until technology and memory and attention deficits challenged me. Like my dad and grandmother did decades ago, I faithfully read obituaries in the morning newspaper. Heredity perhaps.
My three oldest grandchildren are nearly 12. We play Yahtzee. I plan to instruct them never to give anyone the power of making them think they’re not talented or smart. Brains and talent are manifested in varied ways with endless potential. My parents told me similarly, but it took years for the message to take hold. I want my grandchildren to learn faster.
My grandmother likely wanted the same for me. I learned persistence, patience and independence from her and other strong individuals. Hopefully my tomorrows are challenging, not overwhelming, and I remember to nurture the self-confidence once lost and regained. I know she’d lovingly concur.